A major part of the new funding for public schools is going toward teacher salaries, according to the Kansas State Department of Education.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers approved a new school finance formula and appropriated approximately $200 million more in state K-12 funding for the current school year and $100 million for the next one.
But legislators will have to continue work on school finance after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled last week the new system doesn’t provide adequate funding and is unfair to poor districts. The Legislature must propose a remedy to the court by April 30.
Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis recently told the Legislative Budget Committee that under the new school funding law, teachers across the state on average received 4.5 percent pay raises, which costs approximately $95 million. That is about half the amount it would take to restore average salaries to 2010 levels when adjusted for inflation.
The raises follow years of austere budgets under the former block grant system, which essentially froze school funding, and earlier cuts to K-12. Kansas currently ranks 42nd in average teacher pay, according to the National Education Association.
Until this year, teacher salaries in Kansas fell more than eight percent below inflation since 2010. Districts would have to spend $175 million to bring up average salaries to the 2010 adjusted-for-inflation level, KASB has reported.
Unclassified salaries have increased an average 4 percent ($37.3 million) and licensed personnel other than teachers, 4.5 percent ($12.3 million), Dennis said.
Dennis said his figures are based on estimates from information received during the state education department’s annual budget workshops held this summer and individual school district budget reviews.
Recently, KASB asked school districts how they have targeted their new funds. In addition to reinvesting in teachers, most districts that responded have restored programs that had been cut during lean budget years, increased programs and personnel designed to help students who are at risk of failing and enhanced pre-school opportunities. KASB has been posting these findings on Facebook and Twitter.
Kansas Supreme Court rules against state again in Gannon school funding lawsuit
The Kansas Supreme Court on Monday ruled the new school funding law fails to provide enough money and fails to allocate funding equitably.
But the court gave legislators until June 30 to fix the system and allowed schools to remain in operation under the current law for the current academic year.
The court, however, indicated it was losing its patience in the long-running school finance lawsuit, which started in 2010 when the state cut school funding.
“Staying the issuance of our mandate until June 30 is consistent with our general practice. But we also `must heed our duty to ensure Kansas students receive the education system guaranteed them by the Constitution.’ Without counting today’s decision, the education financing system has been judicially declared to be inadequately funded for at least 12 of the last 15 years—through school year 2016-2017. So after June 30, 2018, the demands of the Constitution cannot be further postponed.”
Gov. Sam Brownback, who is expected to leave office soon for a federal appointment, called the court’s decision regrettable and said the court shouldn’t substitute its decision for that of the Legislature.
Senate Republican leaders issued a statement criticizing the court’s decision, adding they “remain committed to providing every Kansas student with an exceptional education, however, raising taxes to fund this unrealistic demand is not going to happen.”
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said in a tweet: “We’re ready to work on crafting constitutionally sound formula that ensures success for all Kansas school children, no matter their zip code.”
KASB Associate Executive Director for Advocacy Mark Tallman said the ruling wasn’t surprising because studies indicate much more funding is needed to help all students succeed.
Last session, the Legislature approved a new school finance formula to replace the block grants that had froze funding for two years and were declared unconstitutional by the court. The Legislature added $200 million in new K-12 funding this year and $100 million next year.
Schools for Fair Funding, which represents plaintiff districts, described the ruling as “a great decision” and said a request made by the State Board of Education for an $893 million increase “is still the best evidence as to what increase is needed.”
The group said the only downside to the decision “was the timing of the remedy. Should the next legislative attempt fail, count on a special session for sure next summer.”
In its decision, the court said adequacy is met when the finance system “through structure and implementation is reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the standards” that have been set by law.
In addition, the court said under a constitutional finance system, “school districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.”
The court also stated: “Suffice it to say that in our view the Kansas K-12 public education system has been inadequately funded for far too long.”
The court said the Legislature has a “myriad of choices available to perform this constitutional duty” of funding schools.